Google Responds To Criticism, Makes Buzz Easier To Kill

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Someone in Mountain View has seen that post about the woman auto-followed by her ex one too many times. Google has announced the following changes to Buzz:

  • Buzz is now opt-in, and users who've never turned it on are now given a prominent way to say 'no, thanks' rather than enable it.

  • The auto-follow feature has been replaced with an auto-suggest feature, where frequently emailed contacts are offered up with checkboxes. And keeping one's follow list private is now the default. (It may always have been, but Google's UI team did a horrible job of showing that to users.)

  • The option to disable Buzz has been moved to the Gmail settings screen, and in addition to just turning it off, users can now also delete their Google Profile and all site connections.

It's worth noting a bit of doublespeak in the blog post announcing the changes:

With Google Buzz, we wanted to make the getting started experience as quick and easy as possible, so that you wouldn't have to manually peck out your social network from scratch.

They're saying they were trying to leverage what Google knows about you—your email communication patterns—to make it easier to get started with Buzz, and where they screwed up was in making some naïve assumptions about how people would react to the new feature. This doesn't absolve Google of blame (they did obviously screw up, and have apologized), but characterizes the problem as an innocent mistake stemming from Google developers' enthusiasm for their new baby.

On the other hand, Buzz is competing against Facebook and Twitter, who've each had a big head start attracting a user base. Google surely didn't mind skipping the part where they convince 200 million people to use their service by simply forcing 200 million people to use their service.

I still have some faith in Google to not want to be evil. But now I'm not so sure they really know the difference.